On Wednesday, Farina, 57, was able to add one more story to his repertoire after the Hoboken Board of Education officially dedicated the James J. Farina Athletic Field House at the John F. Kennedy Field on Clinton Street in his honor.
"I am honored to be recognized for all of the effort that I put in over the years for youth sports," Farina said. Farina will be remembered for his dedication to athletic options offered to girls, especially because back in 1972, he invited Hoboken resident Maria Pepe to join the Little League team he coached, making her the first girl to play organized Little League baseball. This set off a firestorm that reached the Supreme Court and eventually opened the door for the more than 480,000 young women who play Little League baseball today.
At the time, Pepe had a reputation in the neighborhood as being an excellent stickball and wiffle ball player. Farina invited her to try out as a pitcher for his Young Democrats team. Not only did she make the team, but also she pitched for three games.
Farina also was one of the first people to start lobbying for major upgrades at the district's athletic fields. The new field house, located next to Hoboken High School, was built with about $580,000 in Hoboken Board of Education funds. It was approved by the referendum of the voters of Hoboken in compliance with Title IX, which states that there must be equal opportunity for boys and girls in athletics.
According to the board, with the growing popularity and interest of girls' athletics, there was a great need for this field house, which will also have a training facility and a whirlpool.
Uncle sang with Sinatra
Farina is pure Hoboken, and his story is one of Frank Sinatra and baseball. A born-and-raised Hobokenite, Farina grew up idolizing Sinatra, the city's favorite son. In fact, his uncle, James Petrozelli, was a member of the Hoboken Four, one of Sinatra's first singing groups.
For the over the past 20 years, Farina has been throwing birthday parties at City Hall with cake and champagne in honor of the "chairman of the board," who was born Dec. 12, 1915.
The city clerk's office contains one-of-a-kind Sinatra photos and memorabilia. The hallmark of Farina's collection is the "Key to the City" that was given to Sinatra in 1947 by Mayor Fred De Sapio, when Oct. 30 was declared "Frank Sinatra Day" in Hoboken.
But Farina himself will be remembered for the Maria Pepe controversy. Pepe's inclusion on Farina's team made national headlines when an opposing coach lodged a protest.
Eventually, the international Little League headquarters in Williamsport, Pa. got involved and ruled that Pepe should be removed from the team or Hoboken Little League could face losing its Little League charter.
The National Organization for Women filed a civil rights lawsuit on her behalf, claiming sexual discrimination. The case was litigated in courts for more than two years and eventually went to New Jersey Superior Court, which ruled in 1974 that Little League baseball had to allow girls and boys, ages 8 through 12, to play in Little League.
While it was a major victory for all young women, Pepe was 14 at the time and too old to continue her Little League dream.
Member of the board
Farina has been on the city's school board since 1974. He currently is, by a several decades, its most tenured member.
He also has been the city clerk since 1984. Before that, he was the director of Health, Welfare, and Recreation. Few people have been able to navigate the turbulent waters of Hoboken politics better than Farina. He's one of those rare figures who has dodged the animosity of politicians on both sides of the aisle.
Former mayor and current teacher Pat Pasculli, who was the master of ceremonies Wednesday, said much of the reverence stems from Farina's penchant for keeping everyone's bellies full. Whether it's before City Council meetings or sporting events, Farina is known for producing the most amazing spreads of food, from simple sandwiches to fresh mozzarella, to the best homemade pasta.
"That was the genius of Jimmy's politics," Pasculli said. "He knew that, if nothing else, his opposition had to eat."
Farina is also an active member of Sts. Peter and Paul's Church, maintains a membership with the Elk's Lodge, and assists in adult and teen sports leagues.
He has been the Board of Education's athletics chair for the past three decades.
"What this means is that the field is totally complete," Farina said last week, "and we finally have a state-of-the-art athletic facility that school children will be able to enjoy for years to come."